With all the hype over this weekend's opening of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, comic book fans can take comfort in the fact that much of the Twilight saga draws from the exact same story elements as superhero comic books.
Most comic book fans will probably balk at that comparison, since their ranks are overwhelmingly male, while Twilight's fandom is mostly female. But the fact is that the women who may appear ridiculous as they fan themselves over hunky vampires and werewolves are also responding to many of the same story elements that superhero fans have been enjoying for years.
With all the media attention toward Twilight lately, I'm honestly surprised the comparison isn't more prominent in all the hype over these books. Everyone is looking at the "vampire" connection, but they're ignoring the much more evident link with superheroes. If there's a movie genre called "comic book film" or "superhero movie," then Twilight has borrowed tons more of its raw material from that genre than it has from any vampire mythology.
And it's not like Stephenie Meyer, the author of the book series, is hiding it. She listed 12 of her inspirations for Entertainment Weekly recently and among them were both the X-Men cartoon and the Iron Man movie.
"I was always fascinated with the X-Men," Meyer said. "I love the idea of a group of people and all of them can do something really well. They're special, but they're strongest when they work together. Maybe that comes from having a big family, but I always clicked into that kind of story. And I think that really came into play when I was subconsciously forming the Cullen family. Though I certainly wasn't thinking about Cyclops when I was writing about them, I think it was there in the layers underneath.''
Hate to break it to ya, Steph, but those layers aren't hidden that far underneath if you know anything about comics. Being in the somewhat unique position myself of having stacks of long boxes filled with comic books and having read all Meyer's books, I see the similarities between Twilight and superheroes as being more obvious than Professor Xavier's bald head.
- God/Human Love: The origin of this plot can be traced back to ancient mythology, but the story of a god-like being falling in love with a human is something superhero comic books often explore. Superman watches frail, human Lois Lane from across the newsroom and his heart skips a beat. Wonder Woman falls in love with this strangely weak male human named Steve Trevor. Thor, the god of thunder, lives among goddesses, but loses his heart to Jane Foster, a human nurse.
It's the exact same theme when Twilight's mind-reading, superpowered Edward Cullen falls in love with fragile, clumsy Bella. Stephenie Meyer even references the obvious comparison within the text of her books:
"I can't always be Lois Lane," Bella says at one point. "I want to be Superman, too."
- Superpowers: While the gods of ancient mythology had extraordinary abilities, superpower stories in the last century are most often traced to comic book superheroes. And the types of powers that have shown up in comics are as numerous as the hairs on Robert Pattinson's head – some comic book superheroes read minds, some can see the future, some can shock their adversary, others can control emotions, and some can even move the earth below them with a thought, hurling pieces of it through the air.
In the Twilight books, the story's the same. There are characters who read minds, see the future, shock their adversary, control emotions, and even lift the earth below them with a thought, hurling it through the air. Dakota Fanning's character in New Moon can cause immediate pain in her enemies without even touching them. Cameron Bright's character can completely cut off all your senses. And there's a whole group of characters who can communicate telepathically with one another.
What gets really wild is when one band of superpowered beings starts attacking another group of superpowered beings to end the whole saga in the fourth book, Breaking Dawn. Sound familiar? That structural element to end a story is so key to superhero comics that it's rare to read a story without a big superpowered battle at the end.
- Outsider Teens: The superpowered teens in Twilight often struggle to hide their abilities from the rest of the world, and in particular, their classmates. That's something used constantly in comic books, from Spider-Man to Static Shock to Blue Beetle to Supergirl to... heck, just about any teen superhero that shows up in a comic.
And as any comic book fan will tell you, the mutants of the Marvel Universe tend to develop their powers at puberty. It's the classic tale of feeling ostracized at that age, as the mutants congregate into outsider groups of others like them.
In the Twilight book series, there's a group of Native American characters (including the beefy Jacob played by Taylor Lautner) who develop the ability to shapeshift into wolf form. When does this ability hit them? Right around puberty. What do they do? Start hanging out together, and they're outsiders among other teens in their tribe.
But that's not even the most obvious comparison, believe it or not. The central characters in the Twilight story are the "Cullens," a group of teen vampires who are also seen as outsiders at school, yet secretly possess superpowers and congregate together.
- Xavier's School: Here's where Stephenie Meyer's admission that she may have been influenced by the X-Men cartoon becomes the most obvious.
The outsider teen mutants in The X-Men comics are shepherded into a group of do-gooders by a leader named Charles Xavier. He wants them to co-exist peacefully with humans. Although Charles once hung out with a powerful mutant who had a much less tolerant view of humans (Magneto), Charles bucked the mutant trend toward violence and encourages his group of teens to do the same.
The outsider teens in Twilight are shepherded into a group of do-gooders by a "vegetarian" vampire named Carlisle Cullen. He wants them to co-exist peacefully with humans. Although Carlisle once hung out with powerful vampires who had a much less tolerant view of humans (Aro and the Volturi), Carlisle bucked the trend toward violence and encourages his group of teens to do the same.
OK, I admit this plot element is much, much more central to the X-Men comics than it is in the Twilight universe, where romance rules. But ignoring the similarities is impossible. The Cullens even played superpowered baseball, which any comic book fan knows is a common scene in the X-Men.
Ever since I read the Twilight book series, I have been walking around saying, "It's X-Men for chicks!" And nowhere is that more obvious than in the story of Carlisle Cullen and his X-Men teens.
Er... I mean, vampire teens.
There are other similarities that we'll skip, since they might spoil the books for anyone that still wants to read them and hasn't. But let's just say the central plot of last year's X-Men: Messiah Complex sure looks a lot like some of the stuff that goes down in Breaking Dawn. And wow, don't even get me started on my theory that Blade started the trend toward day-walking vampires like the ones that permeate Twilight and most modern vampire fiction.
At the very best, male comic book readers should use this information to their advantage when talking to members of the opposite sex. After all, if she likes Edward Cullen's telepathy, she'll understand why you have a crush on Saturn Girl, right? Spice up your conversation by comparing Carlisle Cullen and Charles Xavier and watch her eyes light up. And... who knows? Maybe you can get her to read an X-Men comic if you can throw a little literary comparison that involves the words "Edward" and "Jacob."
At the very least, superhero fans should enjoy the fact that women are finally getting the things they've been trying desperately to explain to them for years. Sure, we were here first, and maybe we feel like our stories are better than their stories. It feels invasive for these dreamy-eyed newbies to tread on our turf. But instead of scratching our heads in bewilderment or raising a lip in disgust, maybe there's more of a reason to say, "Lady, I'm way ahead of ya."